Sunday, 21 June 2009

Settlers Running Scared - Dreading D-Day 1971

The letter D was looming large in the UK. For some months everyone was being brainwashed by decimalisation literature, television programmes and the radio. It seemed that the country was on the verge of doom and disaster!

Bookies and their staff were worried. Decades of handling and settling bets in good old Pounds shillings and pence would soon be history. Punters, too, were none too happy with the prospect. It was hard to find a person who felt happy about it all.

But it was going to happen. Nothing would stop it now. It was a momentous task and the logistics must have been quite daunting for those in charge of it all.

I was still working for Johnno as general manager of a chain of 12 betting shops in the south London area. All the staff were worried as to how they would cope with this change. Some could not get their head around the "new" money. A florin, or two-shilling piece, would now be equal to "10 new pence". This coin was usually known as "two bob" but would also be "ten new pence".

It was easy to see why so many people were a tad flummoxed. So what was my part in all this? Well, Johnno just left it all to me to "train" our staff. Thanks Johnno!

Firstly I read books and leaflets on the topic. Then I compiled a booklet of my own, aimed at settlers and counterhands in the bookie business. This item was very basic in content and was nothing more than some 20 pages produced via a stencil and duplicator. The pages were stapled in the top left corner. It showed how to work out bets to base 10 whilst still using the old fractions such as 6-4, 5-2 and so on.

I even advertised this rough and ready guide for bookmaker's and their staff in the "Sporting Life" and actually sold a few copies. Unfortunately there was a postal strike just before D-Day and this hindered my prospects of selling many.

Johnno seemed quite happy with the way things were going. I'd held a couple of "in house" training sessions which seemed to put the staff at ease. He then suggested that I give a talk and demonstration at Brixton Town Hall, mainly for the benefit of a couple of his pals in the bookies game. James Lane was one of these friends. He had more shops than Johnno and thought it would be a good idea to have a go at re-assuring his staff too.

Well, it was all arranged for one evening in January 1971. Public speaking was not my forté and as the hour approached I had a touch of the collywobbles. Johnno plied me with a couple of "stiffeners" and I relaxed enough to take the stage.

I knew it would be a disaster to "lecture" the lads and lasses of the bookie business. They'd either fall asleep or walk away. A short introductory summary of what D-Day meant was all I offered and then put the onus on the audience.

Asking for questions and seeking out their main queries and anxieties was the route I took. After one or two plucked up courage to fire a couple of questions the session seemed to take off.

"How am I going to settle a tanner yankee then?" or "What about a five-bob treble all at odds on?" and similar queries. I used a white-board to show how easy these bets were under decimalisation. The evening was far easier than I'd dared hope. Johnno was well pleased. Next morning he gave me £200 which was a useful sum then. He said Jimmy Lane had given it to him to pass on to me. I don't know if that was really the case but I accepted it with great pleasure.

By now I'd been working in the bookie business for some 15 years or so. I was fast becoming disillusioned with the business. I particularly hated to see a hardworking chap come into a shop and spend half his paypacket on a Friday afternoon on bets. I used to wonder what his wife might feel like when the house-keeping money was less than expected. What a way to make a living I thought to myself.

One day I saw an advertisement in the Sporting Life. It was to be the start of a new phase of my life ...


The Bug said...

Your profile says "Jack of all trades, master of none," but I think you're a master of chronicling your life - I'm enjoying it quite a bit!

PhilipH said...

You're far too kind. A really luvverly bug, if I may make so bold.